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Dog Sled History – Balto

Balto (1919 – March 14, 1933) was a Siberian Husky sled dog who led his team on the final leg of the 1925 Great Serum Run to Nome, in which diphtheria antitoxin was transported from Anchorage, Alaska, to Nenana, Alaska, by train and then to Nome by dog sled to combat an outbreak of the disease. The run is commemorated by the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Balto died at the age of 14 due to old age.

Gunnar Kaasen with sled dog BaltoIn January 1925 doctors realized that a potentially deadly diphtheria epidemic broke out amongst Nome’s young people. The serum that could stop the outbreak was in Seattle, Washington, 4,480 km away. The only aircraft that could deliver the medicine quickly was experiencing a frozen engine and would not start. After considering other options, officials decided to move the medicine by a relay series of dog sled teams. The serum was transported by train from Anchorage to Nenana, where the first musher set out as the first string in the relay aimed at delivering the needed serum to Nome. More than 20 mushers took part, facing a blizzard with   -31°  C (−23 °F) temperatures and strong winds.

On February 2, 1925, the Norwegian Gunnar Kaasen drove his team, led by Balto, into Nome. The longest and most hazardous stretch of the run was actually covered by another Norwegian, Leonhard Seppala and his dog team, led by Togo. They came from Nome towards the end of the run and picked up the serum from musher Henry Ivanoff. The serum was later passed to Kaasen.

Balto proved himself on the Iditarod trail, saving his team in the Topkok River. Balto was also able to stay on the trail in near whiteout conditions; Kaasen said he could barely see his hand in front of his face. Balto’s team did their leg of the run almost entirely in the dark. The final team and its musher was asleep when Balto and Kaasen made it to the final stop, so Kaasen decided to continue on. At Nome, everybody wanted to thank Kaasen at first, but he suggested giving fame to Balto as well.

After the expedition’s success, Balto and Kaasen became celebrities. A statue of Balto was erected in New York City’s Central Park on December 17, 1926, 10 short months after Balto’s arrival in Nome. In front of the statue a slate plaque depicts Balto’s sled team, and bears the following inscription:

Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through Arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the Winter of 1925.

Endurance · Fidelity · Intelligence

-with notes from Wikipedia and The History of the Iditarod

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